It has been a huge week when it comes to protecting intellectual property and defending the freedom of the Internet. Following a massive blackout on Wednesday to oppose pending SOPA legislation, the United States government took down MegaUpload.com--demonstrating why we don’t need SOPA in the first place.
Debate has been raging on Capitol Hill over two pending bills--SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House, and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the Senate. Supporters insist that copyright violations and intellectual property theft are a rampant online epidemic, and that sweeping, draconian legislation is the only viable solution.
The Internet disagrees. Starting with an effort to boycott GoDaddy.com for its support of SOPA, awareness has steadily increased, and opposition has grown. Individuals responsible for inventing the technologies on which the Internet is built issued a plea to Congress to abandon the bills, and the SOPA blackout this week created enough backlash and political pressure that both bills have been postponed.
The question remains, though, why do we need any new legislation at all?
The core premise of the argument for SOPA and PIPA is that supporters claim the legislation is necessary to enable them to take action to fight online content piracy from rogue foreign sites that operate outside of U.S. laws. The poster child for SOPA/PIPA support has been MegaUpload.com.
Setting aside the irony that MegaUpload.com would be immune from SOPA or PIPA persecution even if the legislation passed, the actions of the Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement clearly illustrate that the existing framework of legal authority is sufficient. If the government is already capable of taking down a website without due legal process, and enlisting the cooperation of international law enforcement to arrest its key members on foreign soil, what exactly do we need additional legislation for?
The DOJ case against MegaUpload relies on ProIP legislation passed in 2008. That legislation faced controversy as well--including the appointment of a “copyright czar,” Victoria Espinel, who operates outside of the Judicial branch as a function of the Executive Office of the President. Just as with SOPA and PIPA, there were claims that ProIP was overreaching and unnecessary, and assurances from the government that the tenets of the new law would not be abused.
The debate is just getting started over whether the DOJ action against MegaUpload.com is justified, or an example of abusing ProIP. Regardless, though, the legal action against MegaUpload.com should be all the evidence needed to demonstrate that SOPA and PIPA are not needed.
Mike Masnick sums it up in a post on TechDirt. “So why do we need SOPA/PIPA again?”